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What is a true test of a person’s character?

Posted Feb 11 2009 2:53pm

Scales_of_justice Yesterday, as I was reading Bob Sutton’s work manifesto, I was struck by his #9: “The best test of a person's character is how he or she treats those with less power.” I love this way of thinking about character, and that statement got me thinking: what else is a test of a person’s true nature? Well, what a person finds funny is a good test. I asked a bunch of friends for their ideas.

--“How a person treats a waiter.”
--“Whether a person plays by the rules when no one is watching.”
--“How people behave when they’re pulled over while driving.”
--“How a person treats his or her own parents. And in-laws.”
--“My father told me never to trust a man who doesn’t drink – though he did say there are a few medical exceptions.” (Maybe I'm off the hook here as a woman, but I basically had to give up drinking, so I'd fail this test.)
--“How often they use the bcc function in work emails. I don’t think you should ever use the bcc.”
--“Whether a person eats a piece of chocolate cake at a birthday party.” (As an unconventional eater myself, I'd fail this test; I wouldn’t eat that birthday cake.)
--“How he or she handles good fortune.”
--“How he or she behaves during a long, arduous trip.”
--“It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain.” --John Henry Newman.

I get a tremendous kick out of collecting these kinds of observations. If you have one to add, please post it.

Journalist Carlin Flora at Psychology Today wrote a big piece on happiness, Happiness Makeovers, and she was kind enough to include a profile of me.

Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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